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A German Doctor at the Front-Dr Wilhelm His-241pgs-1933-POL.sml

A German Doctor at the Front-Dr Wilhelm His-241pgs-1933-POL.sml

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Published by: wzodiakk on Apr 07, 2012
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Aleppo, Sunday, April1, 1917.

Of Aleppo I saw the new city, with broad streets, naturally un-

paved and dusty, with wide villas of rich merchants, each with
a miniature garden. In each house is a large salon, into which
open all rooms, hung with rugs. In the distance is a tempting
dervish cloister and a citadel, which are to be visited today. I

write early at seven, in my night shirt, for throughout the day
I cannot get time, as I am escorted and feted.
Evening. An interesting day., Very warm. Early visit to
Turkish stations and German installations. Noon I spent with
Frau Koch, then I viewed the things worth seeing, had towards
evening a whiskey-soda at Koch's, dined in the home, and now

a few words to you.

Aleppo is a very attractive city, the new quarters are ele-
gant, the old ones narrow and picturesque, populated by varie-

gated and wild folk, Arabs, Armenians, refugees, deserters,

gypsies, thieving children, dangerous looking men, hideous old

women with tearful eyes and Aleppo boils. Near the city are

wide caves in the chalk rocks, which extend for miles, in which

live all sort of migrating folk. Wild dogs breed in them. Then

a whole quarter of old walls and graves of royal mamielukes

of fine architecture, largely despoiled by robbery and pillage
during the war. A mighty stronghold on the old citadel hill,
which required for building from 2000 B'. C. to 1300 A. D. One
can see from below vultures and kestrels fly around, but from
above you can throw salt on their tails and view the whole city,
everything being in all color shades between silver gray and
clay yellow. Visit to two native families. One an Arab who

collects rugs and Chinese porcelain and whose daughter is a
poetess, and the other a former Greek family, which for 100

years has collected everything, from the Hittite sculptures of
the 20th century before Christ to Chinese porcelain and wall
stones of the 16th to 18th centuries.

Two fine women with

natural dignity.

Schilling has vaccinated them and says he

has never seen such filthy legs. Koch's is the meeting place of
all foreigners. There was Professor Koldewey, who was exca-




vating in Babylon and accidentally escaped from the English
without luggage and with only a few silk rugs from Persia,
which were lost when his mule ran away while enroute. He kept

his sense of humor, "Thank Heaven, now I have no more

treasures on earth, where moths and rust do corrupt, or thieves
break through and steal." Then there was Dr. Haerle of Bag-
dad, whose patients soaked his written prescriptions in water
and drank it as magic. I myself feel as if I had taken a magic
remedy: daily from morning to night new impressions for the
eye and ear, ever new reports on the land and the people, nice
ones and not so nice ones which will take long to masticate and
digest. Tomorrow Hiisni goes back to Bosanti, and I will work

only a few days in the laboratory and make a few visits, then I

will go to Mardin where another Turkish officer is already
awaiting me. For today enough, for we have been April fooled
twice, at the noon meal by Koldewey who asserted there was a

solar eclipse and lured everybody to the window, and in the
evening when we were given blown out-eggs and wurst with

stones, inventions of Princess Brigitte Reuss who directs the

home. Now I have earned some sleep.

April 3.

Aleppo is inexhaustible. Yesterday I was early

in the laboratory, the afternoon I spent in the old city under

the guidance of the indefatigable Frau Koch.

Two stately

private houses, the one now a German technical school, was
built about three hundred years ago. One steps from a narrow
little street into a large courtyard with a well, surrounded by

the living quarters, whose walls are of wood, on which are su-

perimposed plaster-of-Paris moulding (ornaments) and which

are painted in delicate colors like old Japan lacquer with orna-
ments, quotations from the Koran, flower vases. The doors are
inlaid wood work, the ceilings are chased and painted in many

colors, the whole being serene, dull-finished, and in spite of the

detail work, uniform. A beautiful domed room for a bath has
interesting capitals. The cupola is laid out with painted glass,

leaving an opening.

The outside walls are plain, but finely
chased marble inlays are above the doors. Everything shows
signs of decay, yet one still has a full impression of former

beauty. The other is the king's house, in which even today
live the offspring of the princes, who had been independent
during the 16th century for a brief period. We are escorted by
a dignified old man and afew"princes," blond, brown and




In the court of this house is a broad basin, a niche on the
left and on the right, each most beautifully tiled in blue.


men and women assemble in the evening. The last "king" had
40 wives, who, on beautiful summer evenings, were compelled

to form in line and at the king's command jump into the water,
there to act in lively fashion while he sat, drank coffee and

smoked the nargileh (hookah).

The present occupants are

penurious, and as they are princes and must not work, they oc-

casionally take out a tile or painting, sell it to some collector,

and thus have something to live on for a while. There are two
large mosques, one with the grave of Zacchary, a great sacred
shrine. Behind a costly partition is a recess lined with tiles,
rugs and embroidery. The other, now a dysentery hospital, has

beautiful columns and capitals of the 12th century, wood inlays

and tiles. While we were admiring these beauties now one and

now another patient sat on a small pot relieving himself with

groans. As a lazaret it was kept clean, but the poor devils

were given nothing to eat. There is general dearth in the land.
There is no lack of supplies, but they are hard to secure. To
this one must add much speculation in wheat and oil. Now and
then the police make raids for recruiting purposes, but who-

ever delivers 3000 kilos of corn is free from military duty.

One can buy rugs and antiques by the, wholesale, and some are

really beautiful, but the prices are high, because of the war, and

the people sell only for metal money, which has three to four
times the value of paper money, and can be secured only with
great difficulty in roundabout ways. The bazaars are incredibly
variegated, each street displays a different article. The laborers
work hard; boys ten or twelve years old forge horse shoe nails,
an old man turns with his toes an antediluvian lathe; women
offer Urfa laces, flat breads, oranges and rice. The children
have big malaria bellies, the adults almost without exception
have scars of Aleppo boils, sick eyes and massive skin erup-
tions. To this add weather hot as August and pleasant aromas,
but as yet no flies or mosquitoes. I buy nothing as yet and am

saving for the return trip. I must see first how I can get along

with the money, and it is said that in Diarbekr and Mosul,

away from the stream of strangers, one can find more beauti-
ful things. Now I am going to post the letter, repack to reduce

baggage to a minimum, and make some visits. Today or to-

morrow I go in an eastern direction



The days in Aleppo were well filled. Germans and Turks

vied with each other in courtesies and accompanied me the
whole day. At my departure this led to a small calamity. At
the station I had a large escort of Turkish physicians and the
animated conversation continued to the last moment. My trav-
eling bag was at my side, Joesten forgot to put it aboard, and

it was only on the way that I noticed that my toilet articles and

important papers were left behind. After 10 minutes the train
stopped-engine defect, how fortunate. I sent Joesten back to

the city. The train was supposed to wait until his return, but
went on nevertheless, and so I sat in the train without luggage,

and Joesten in Aleppo without anything. But he knew how to

look out for himself, and caught up with me after three days,

by a freight column.
My goal was Mardin, the city where the road branches off

northward to Armenia.

The railroad passes at first a river
valley with orchards, almond, peach, cherry, and pomegranate

trees, all in the first bloom of spring. Next come wide wheat

and cotton fields. Gradually the steppe becomes evident, with
rich buffalo herds and yellow clay huts, which look like bee
hives. Then the train reaches the Euphrates and passes over
a magnificent new bridge. At this place the Euphrates is a wide

and stately river, studded by islands and islets. The right bank
is the seat of an age-old Hittite fort, in which the English have

excavated remarkable reliefs. Beyond the river one again be-
holds the monotonous steppe.

At night we reached a small
hamlet, Ras ul Ain. Here we were supposed to be taken in by
a German home, but there was no tent and the place not free

from lice. We had as a traveling companion the chief of rail-
road operations, Engineer Hilfiker, whose wife was a country-

woman of mine, and thanks to this contact all difficulties were
overcome, a car being pushed onto a siding in which the whole

society spent the night. We had with us the cavalry captain v.

Roell, the new commandant of the motor transport detachment

in Mardin, who had ordered his auto to await him in Ras ul Ain,
and he took me to Mardin. First we had breakfast in the Turk-
ish restaurant, coffee and tea in cups of the size of egg cups,

stone hard bread, which I had brought with me from Constan-
tinople and which I found to be glorious, fresh eggs of the

locality. I visited the stronghold, also Hittite, which a former

patient of mine, Baron v. Oppenheim, had excavated.




Hittites are a people of whom little was known up to a few years
ago, but who inhabited Asia Minor from 2000 to 1200 B. C., left

writings and sculptures, and were characterized by Jewish

facial features. Thus there is here the statue of a queen with

a treble chin, the nose long and curved, and the mouth from

ear to ear. Alongside is a goddess with brutal features, but still

with an expression of loftiness, which the artist secured by
tilting back the head. There are a few sphynxes and griffins,

some inscribed tablets-not much, and yet everything character-


(The works can now be seen in Berlin and in the Tell-
Halaf museum, which Baron v. Oppenheim erected on his 70th


The stronghold, traversed by ditches and shafts,

lies on a river which teems with fish. They had just caught a
mirrorcarp which they offered for sale. Alongside is a warm
sulphur spring, which affords a pleasure resort for turtles and
countless frogs. The meadows are full of daisies and poppies

not larger than a pfennig (a German coin smaller than an

American one cent piece) and violet in color. We proceed
through the steppe. There travels a German auto-column which
supplies the entire Second Army, battling the Russians in Ar-
menia. The railroad is being built and will have a branch to
Mardin, which will be opened in the near future. The steppe
extends to the south beyond our vision, in the north at a great
distance one sees a blue mountain range, the last spur of the

Armenian Taurus, the goal of our travels.

There were also

a few rivulets, even now the snow is melting. Farther south it

is dried up in the gravel. Here and there is a well in a village in-

habited by Kurds, the men sinewy, in heavy brown overcoats

at a temperature of 35 to 40 degrees(C),the women without

veils, the children beautiful as pictures, with shining teeth,
blond, black or red hair; they run after the auto and beg or
show their knowledge of German, "wun piaster" and "heidi
go." On the road is an endless column, men, women and chil-

dren wrapped in rags of all colors, travel about laden with their
little possession, so hungry that they eat grass, eagerly falling

over a few pieces of bread.

These are exiled Kurds, driven
into misery by the government, no one knowing why. To the

right and to the left of the road lie skeletons of mules, horses

and camels that have fallen by the way, avidly sought by vul-
tures as long as there is a remnant of meat, the vultures with
large wings flying about in great numbers. The steppe itself



now appears green, but looked at closely it has a yellow clay
soil from which shoot here and there small grasses, intermingled
with flowers. The flora changes every few minutes. Where a
plant finds root it multiplies and assembles about it a family
of offshoots of generations in a space of several hundred meters
circumference. There are patches of charlock, daisies, hellebore,

St. Johns wort, and a plant with grayish yellow leaves and
deep yellow fruit, which, I think, is colocynth. The auto races

through all these glories without feeling and leaves us little
time for observation and none for reflection. Towards noon one

observes the mirage, things like Zeppelins hang in the air, hills

are seen upside down, then there appear shining large seas,

which disappear at the next puff of the wind. A city, Tel Aman,

has a ruin of a magnificent mosque of Saladin, of which the

portal and the prayer niche are still preserved. The villages

consist of flat clay huts which can scarcely be distinguished from

the soil, the inhabitants are Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, in brown
or checkered overcoats, an inexhaustible material for paintings

in their faded colors and in the glaring sun.

Slowly the mountain range comes nearer, a completely bar-
ren limestone mountain, yellow red, silver gray. One can dis-

tinguish flat tops and crown-like pinnacles. At the foot of a
wide, reddish pinnacle rises slowly a gray sea of houses. That
is Mardin. Now the road goes up over chalk hills, terraces with
peach and olive trees become visible, and finally after passing

bazaars and miserable huts, and traversing streets with stately
houses, we reach our quarters at the auto detachment. We are
in a house built against the mountain, belonging to a rich and
now exiled Armenian, reached by terraces and steep stairs, the

doors framed by artistic stone sculpture and wood carvings,
and provided with knockers. In this house I shared with a

chaplain a tower room, infested all day by kestrels, who made
a great noise. Behind the house rises the poorer city quarter,
above that the steep cliffs which terminate in the ruins of the

stronghold, the whole a fantastic theatrical scenic effect, especi-

ally under the moonlight. Below is the city with its variegated
mass of men and animals, the flat roofs of the lower quarters

on whichh the children play, next the hill spurs with their white

and red rocks, then a few green fields and behind them, disap-

pearing in a marine blue background, is the endless Mesopotam-

ian plain. My work here is done, the one German and the sev-



eral Turkish lazarets have been visited, the stronghold was
ascended early today, and now I am waiting to be driven on,

which depends on the will and opportunity of the motor drivers.
Today, on Good Friday, the long awaited and desired rain came.

Without it the country would have had poor crops, and it is

therefore regrettable that it was not heavy enough. For my

travels the fine weather is favorable, as otherwise the lime stone

steppe would be transformed into a soap through which no ve-

hicle could pass. Therefore rainy weather delays me. Yesterday

evening there was a small fete in honor of the new command-

ant of the motor detachment; today dinner with the Turks, who

for a long time have been sitting behind tables and eating from
plates, like ourselves. This evening I am with the railroad con-
struction company. Of the war one feels little here, and it is

said that in this army it is not being waged very violently. My
aim is to go from here to Diarbekr and Charput, where we have

flyers and motor transport men and where are large Turkish

lazarets, from there I intend to go to Mosul on the Tigris, back
to Aleppo, and thence to Jerusalem. My companion with this

army is Murad Effendi, who had practised surgery in Hamburg

and longs to be back in Germany. Most of the Turks talk fairly
good French, so that we can easily understand each other. The

lazarets are pretty good, the patients, to be sure, are very mis-

erable, exhausted by malaria and typhus, but above all by hun-

ger. It is all due to dearth of necessities in the land but especial-

ly to inadequate transportation.

The lazarets in Mardin, Turkish and German, are pleasant

and clean, but occupied by more patients than should have been
necessary. The subsistence of the motor drivers was miserable.
The Turks were obligated to provide flour, but what they pro-
duced was not much better than sweepings of the floors of the
warehouses. From this was baked a truly frightful bread, and
that our motorists had to eat. Now good flour could be pur-
chased in the open market, but this was forbidden by the mili-

tary mission, which stuck to it in spite of complaints, until the

commandant on his own responsibility circumvented the order,
and the SOS inspector while on a tour of inspection personally
saw the bad situation. This was another example of the futility
of attempting to conduct a war by orders from a distant central


Zealous work was being done under the direction of Major



Gunther of the engineers in building a branch railroad which
was to connect Mardin with the main line and later to extend
also to Armenia. The construction was greatly handicapped by
dearth of labor. To be sure the Turkish government provided
laborers, Russian prisoners, Indians, and drafted Anatolians.
But when they arrived their condition was such that weeks had
to be spent in curing and feeding them before one could demand

of them any work.


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